This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the NY Board of Regents approved the state's sharing of student and teacher information with a new national database, to be funded by the Gates Foundation, and designed by News Corp's Wireless Generation. Other states that have already agreed to share this data, according to the NY State Education Department, include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana and Massachusetts.
All this confidential student and teacher data will be held by a private limited corporation, called the Shared Learning Collaborative LLC, with even less accountability, which in July was awarded $76.5 million by the Gates Foundation, to be spent over 7 months. According to an earlier NYT story, $44 million of this funding will go straight into the pockets of Wireless Generation, owned by Murdoch's News Corp and run by Joel Klein.
The Regents approved this project, despite the NY State Comptroller's veto this summer of the State Education Department's proposed no-bid contract to Wireless to build a state-wide data system, apparently because the state is not paying money to participate. The Comptroller -- and the public as well -- had opposed this contract, in large part because of privacy concerns and the involvement of Murdoch's company, which is still embroiled in a major phone-hacking scandal in the UK.
Here is what SED writes, in explanation of their intent to share this confidential data:
The cost of the development of the SLC will be the responsibility of the SLC, not New York State. Consistent with the Comptroller's concerns regarding Wireless Generation, no New York State funds will be paid directly or indirectly to Wireless Generation or any of its subsidiaries for the development of these SLC services... As mentioned above, each state and school/district will retain sole ownership of its data. Only anonymous data will be used for SLC system development. As in any system development project, a limited number of authorized vendors will need to access actual educational data for system operation and improvements.
Including Wireless, one must assume. But this is not all. Here is more from the SED document:
The Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) is a consortium of states organized to help increase the benefits and long-term sustainability of data, curriculum, and instructional improvement initiatives. The SLC is facilitated by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and has received initial funding from the Carnegie Corporation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Participating states include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Massachusetts.
A primary purpose of the SLC is to help promote the efficient expenditure of taxpayer funds by coordinating the efforts of multiple states to provide for the common needs of all participating states, including shared infrastructure and services that integrate, deliver, and display educational data and curriculum resources for educators, students, and families. Legally binding agreements will ensure that each state's data remain separate and distinct from the data of all other states...
Along with Wireless, some of the other companies involved will be two consulting companies: Alvarez and Marsal, who were behind the disastrous reorganization of NYC school bus routes in the winter of 2007, and McKinsey, which led the first reorganization of the NYC Department of Education in 2003, which included dissolving the community district structure (contrary to law) and totally ignoring any parent input.
Here is an excerpt from a Gates' fact sheet about this project:
In addition to making instructional data more manageable and useful, this open-license technology, provisionally called the Shared Learning Infrastructure (SLI), will also support a large market for vendors of learning materials and application developers to deliver content and tools that meet the Common Core State Standards and are interoperable with each other and the most popular student information systems.
In other words, companies will be making more money off our kids' test scores.
Meanwhile, it is not reassuring that the Gates document says that "the long-term governance model" of this national database "is still in development."
They add a standard disclaimer, that "Designing protections for student privacy will be addressed throughout the development of the system, and data access and usage models will be designed to support compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and other privacy laws" without any assurances of how this will be achieved.
The SLC is making plans for its long-term governance, including the protection of data privacy and security; the development of a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization structure; and the articulation of a business model for long-term fiscal sustainability. This work will be guided by participating states and informed by input from a panel of expert advisors, including Cheryl Vedoe, President and CEO of Apex Learning; David Riley, President of the Alembic Foundation and an open source technology expert; Dr. Michael Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund; Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers; Michael Horn, Co-founder and Executive Director for Education at Innosight Institute; and Andrew Rotherham, Co-founder and Partner of Bellwether Education Partners.
I wonder how many of those organizations receive funding from Gates.
Where are the independent experts on privacy, and even more importantly, the input of parents, who really should be allowed to opt out of this national database?